“What time is it?” “It’s teatime, you old bag!”

I started drinking tea years ago, influenced by a friend who is a tea connoisseur. My friend and his wife live far away and we hardly ever get to see them. I don’t think he’s ever prepared a cup of tea for me. But he wrote about tea so appealingly on his online journal that I had to try it out.

The first thing to know about tea is that American supermarket brands are crap. They’re made from the little particles that are not good enough for tea drinkers elsewhere in the world. You want to use loose tea to make your tea. You can buy it online; one good place is Adagio Teas, which is where I buy. I tried a couple of dozen different kinds of teas over the years, but never really felt like I developed any kind of palate for it, so I eventually just started buying Lipton Yellow Label loose tea. I was never able to find it in a standard supermarket, but I bought it regularly from a supermarket called Vineripe, which caters to the middle Eastern and Eastern Asian immigrant communities here in San Diego. The package I buy has a strange alphabet on it; I think it might be Farsi.

I tried different kinds of teapots, but they were hard to clean, so Julie got me a kind of teapot called YiXing, made from a special Chinese purple clay. It’s a nice-looking teapot. You don’t wash it; you just rinse it with hot water between uses. The tea steeps into the porous clay and supposedly adds to the flavor.

A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.
A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.

Eventually, I got tired of messing with the teapot. The spout clogs regularly, and has to be cleared with a very thin brush. So I switched to making tea one cup at a time using a mesh steel ball to contain the leaves.

I commented to a friend recently about how I drink Lipton Yellow Label, and he said he considers it barely one step above rubbish. He’s English, so he should know. He drinks Irish Breakfast tea. We didn’t have any of that around the house, but we did have English breakfast, and I liked that much better than the Yellow Label so I think I’ll be drinking that for a while. I found two or three containers we had lying around, and I ordered a small sampler of English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast from Adagio to see which I like better.

The English Breakfast we had around the house is in teabags. I know that all decent tea-drinking people hate teabags, but really this wasn’t bad. These were the oval pillow kind without strings, not the square ones with attached strings you get in the US. Manufacturers now make pyramid-shaped space-age teabags which are supposed to be just as good as loose tea. Maybe teabags have gotten better.

In the late afternoon and evening, when I need to avoid caffeine, if I want something hot to sip on I drink rooibos tea, which is an African herb tea. The plant doesn’t have any caffeine in it at all. The taste is similar to black tea, but different enough that it doesn’t seem like some kind of fake food that’s trying too hard (like some of those vegetarian fake meats you can buy). It’s a tougher brew than regular tea. Regular tea needs to be steeped for a precise amount of time or it’s underdone or overly bitter, but you can leave rooibos tea steeping as long as you want. Leave it in there for days if you want. The tea doesn’t care.

This handmade Doctor Who TARDIS teapot is available for sale on Etsy for $15. It holds more tea on the inside than it does on the outside.

Tardis teapot

Put away two things every day

In my effort to get my home office looking less like a disorganized storage unit, and more like an actual office — an effort that has gone on so long that if it was a person, it would be old enough to vote — I have a new rule: Every day, I clean up that day’s new clutter and mess. And then I remove two more things from the office. Preferably, I put those things away. But usually I can’t put them away, so instead I move them to a part of the house we don’t use. And when my office is in shape, I’ll start sorting through all the things in storage and keep some of them, and get rid of most of them.

Getting rid of things is a big project. We can’t just throw them away, as we could in the Mad Men era. We have to recycle them, or sell them, or give them away responsibly. What a pain.

Among the things I’ll be giving away: About 90 percent of my books. I have no idea how many books I have; if I had to guess, I’d say 10,000. Years ago, I began to wonder why I kept every book I ever read, because it’s not like I’m going to reread 99 percent of them. And yet I keep them all. Why? Well, because it’s what one does. It’s what I’ve always done. But now with the advent of e-books I’d much rather have the space, and re-acquire anything I want to re-read as an e-book.

Where can I get rid of old books? How about electronics? Office supplies?

Some notes and photos from my time with Occupy San Diego

Occupy San Diego is on the little plaza just outside the San Diego Civic Theater, which is where Julie and I saw _Wicked_ and other Broadway plays, and where we will be going to see another play next week. Appropriately enough, that play is Hair. The news and local blogs identify that little plaza as the San Diego Civic Center, but neither Julie nor I nor Google Maps have ever heard of such a place. There is, however, a Civic Center stop on the Trolley, our local light rail, so I just drove there late Sunday afternoon and then drove around until I saw a half dozen police cars and motorcycles, some cops walking around, and a big placard on the sidewalk that said “Occupy San Diego.” I parked a couple of blocks away, and walked back.

On arrival, I talked to a guy who looked to be in his early 20s, carrying this sign:

USA invade USA 3

He introduced me to his pregnant wife and young daughter. He said he does PR, marketing, and online community management for a game company. I asked him why he was demonstrating, and what changes should be made in the economic system. He said he favors capitalism, but believes that too much wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few people. He believes everybody should have an opportunity to start a business and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

I asked him what he thought about criticism that Occupy was incoherent, and should have an organized list of demands. He said, well, he’d like to see them have three talking points and focus on those points. Spoken like a true PR person, I said.

There seemed to be about a hundred people in the plaza, mostly young but a few older, mostly white but a few of other races. They were mostly a bohemian lot, as you might expect, but many of them looked like they’d fit right into any business office.

Will be heard 1

You have a voice 1

One of the leaders was a red-haired woman with a lot of tattoos, wearing a sundress.

Megaphone

I had a good conversation with a young blonde woman with a Mohawk. She told me the police were very helpful, looking out for them and clearing the way for their protest marches. (Although I have seen reports elsewhere of conflicts with San Diego police.)

I stopped at a card table set up as an information kiosk in the center of the plaza. They had some tattered mimeographed documents stating Occupy’s principles and demands, which they said were downloadable from the Occupy Wall Street Website. I asked them what they needed, they said nonperishable food, medical assistance and supplies. They’re set on bottled water. I saw a bushel of apples. I went to a commissary area in the back of the plaza, and they told me about more things they needed: Any snack foods. A couple of camp stoves. Instant coffee. I said I was about to make an EXTREMELY GENEROUS DONATION, and fished around in my gear back for three Kashi bars I thought I had in there. Turned out I only had two. The young man at the table thanked me anyway; he said everybody else was taking from the commissary, so every little bit given helped.

I walked past two young men seated on the ground. One of them asked me what time it was. I looked on my iPhone, and told them: “4:20.” As I walked away, the other man snickered. It took me a second to figure out what he was laughing at. Right. 4:20. I went back and talked to him (the guy who asked me the time had left), and we talked for a while. I’d seen him walking around before; he was wearing a dirty bathrobe and carrying a placard. I’d avoided him before because, to me, a guy walking around in public wearing a dirty bathrobe is not someone you want to seek out. But he explained that he is not a crazy person; he just wanted to attract attention to his sign, and a guy walking around wearing a bathrobe certainly attracts attention.

Bathrobe

A crowd marched off through downtown. I didn’t join them. They came back

I had been nervous about going down, hearing about riots in other cities and some problems in San Diego. I even thought about taking the Trolley in, in case I got arrested, but I finally decided, screw it, I’d just take the car. The Trolley takes forever. I thought about wearing clothes that could stand a sidewalk-scraping, and wondered if I’d be pepper-sprayed or beaten. I got so nervous — oh, why not call it what it was; I was afraid — that I thought about not going. But it was entirely a pleasant experience, and I’m glad I went. I’m going to try to get back in a few days, and bring groceries this time.

You want to know what the Occupy movement wants? I can tell you. Here are three talking points, to gladden a PR person:

– They want an honest day’s pay for a day’s honest work.

– They want to keep their pay themselves, not have their money get siphoned to the richest 1%.

– They want a shot at the American dream.

In other words, they want the cookies, not the crumbs left by the 1%.

Cookies

(The little red wagon at this woman’s feet had trays of cookies on it.)

Or, rather: We want those things. I sure do. Don’t you?

First impressions of iOS 5

I upgraded my iPhone 4 and first-generation iPad Wednesday morning as soon as iOS 5 became available. I like it a lot. Here are some random first impressions:

I like the tabbed Mobile Safari browser on the iPad. I hadn’t read anything about that feature on the previews. Tabs reduce the hassle of changing between open browser windows by many taps. I’ve switched back to Mobile Safari as my main browser; previously I’d been using the Atomic Web Browser, mainly because it has tabs.

Speaking of the browser, I like the new Reading List. I hadn’t thought I’d use it, because I’m a devoted Instapaper user. But I’m using the Reading List for a completely different purpose. When I visit a site like Techmeme, which has a lot of links, I queue up links in the Reading List, and then read each of them one by one. Because of the iPad’s limited memory, that’s better than just opening all the links in separate tabs, which is what I would do on the desktop.

I like the split keyboard on the iPad. It makes it much easier to thumb-type while holding the iPad in portrait mode between my palms, which is how I often enter text into the iPad. I wish the keys were a little bigger, though.

On the iPhone, I love that the Personal Hotspot feature is now surfaced in Settings. I wish they’d also surface Bluetooth, because I frequently have to fiddle with Bluetooth settings to keep my Bluetooth earpiece working. Bluetooth earpieces are a cruel joke by the electronics industry.

I like that I can now flag messages in mail. For years, I used Gmail as my primary email account. When I was mobile, I’d access Gmail with my mobile browser, mark everything as read, and star messages requiring attention at my desk. Now, my primary email is a corporate Exchange account, which I need to access using the iPhone and iPad’s Mail client. I didn’t realize how much I missed being able to flag messages.

I had a bit of trouble migrating to iCloud. When I entered my MobileMe credentials, I got an error message saying, “Move your MobileMe Account to iCloud: Go to me.com on your computer to move your information to iCloud.”

Turns out that’s not quite right — you need to go to iCloud.com first, log in with your MobileMe credentials, and then you’re directed to Me.com to complete the job. And I couldn’t access Me.com from Chrome; I had to use Safari to get in.

Steve Jobs is going to come back from the dead to kick some ass over this.

I can’t access iCloud from my Mac, because my Mac is still on Snow Leopard.

Altogether unsatisfactory — but I hope the problem will be quickly resolved.

I like the new Notification Center a lot. I gather it’s unpopular among the respected Mac blogs; I haven’t had a chance to read up to find out why.

On the other hand, Settings for Notification Center are a mess. To configure Notification Center for any individual app, you need to look in three places: The Notifications area of the Settings app, the app’s own area in the Settings app, and the settings area of the app itself. I know that sentence is confusing to read; it’s equally confusing to do. Apple needs to crack the whip on developers and enforce a consistent way to manage settings. I don’t care if settings are inside the app or in the Settings app, but they all need to be in one place.

I wish that apps like OmniFocus and Podcaster could sync in the background. Every day when it’s time to check my to-do list, I have to walk across the house to get my iPad and sync OmniFocus manually, then sync it on my iPhone, and sync on the Mac. It’s like living in primitive conditions.

Because I have an older iPhone, I don’t have Siri. I’m looking forward to getting it with my next upgrade, which I expect will be spring or summer when the next generation of iPads or iPhones come out. I had hoped that the iPhone 4 and iPad would support dictation at least, if not full-blown Siri support, but that’s not the case. Oh, well.

I like shortcuts. I can now type “mmw” to spell out my whole name, and “cmosig” for my work email signature. I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

Here’s an annoying bug: When I went out walking yesterday, far away from a Wi-Fi connection, I found I had to redownload all my podcasts. Same thing with Instapaper articles. Instapaper developer Marco Arment explains the problem.

All in all, a solid upgrade to the iOS line. Nothing I can think of that’s magic, but many improvements.

Advice to a friend who’s hit a plateau losing weight

I hit a plateau on my weight loss until I took two steps:

Increased my daily exercise from a half-hour to an hour. There was a medical study that said that people who exercised a half-hour a day had difficulty losing weight. But people who exercised an hour a day were much more successful.

The cut-off was around 54 or 56 minutes.

The study was done on women, but I have been given to understand that women and men are the same species.

On the other hand, women seem to find it much, much harder than men to lose weight; their metabolism fights them much harder to keep the pounds on. So a study of weight loss done solely on women is likely to be less applicable to men.

Still, it worked for me.

Adjusting calories. I lost weight by counting calories using the Lose It! iPhone app. After a long period of weight-loss plateaus, I evolved the following thumb rules:

– Any week where I kept to my eating program and maintained or gained weight, I would cut 25 calories from Lose It’s recommended daily allowance.

– Likewise, any week where I lost more than 2 pounds, I’d add 25 calories to the Lose It recommendation. Because losing weight at a moderate pace is one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.

I’m following a similar calorie-counting regime to maintain weight; if my weight is getting too low, I add 25 calories per day to my program, and if I gain more than a half-pound or so, I subtract 25 calories per day. My weight has been swinging between 171 and 174 since January, which seems pretty good to me.

Yes, all of this calorie counting and fiddling seems like an enormous hassle, but (1) I evolved this system over the nearly two years it took me to lose weight. It started simple: Download Lose It!, use it to keep a food journal of every bite you eat, measure everything, keep within the Lose It! recommended calorie limits. Over time, it got more complicated as I made adjustments, but it’s all been very manageable. (2) It beats being fat. I think of myself as a disabled person; I don’t have that barometer part of my brain that governs eating and exercise in normal people. As disabilities go, it’s not a bad one to have (although I don’t get a special parking space, dagnabbit).

For OmniFocus nerds only: A big feature request

OmniFocus is the control panel of my life. I write down everything I need or want to do in OmniFocus, and then when the time comes, I do it. This post is for my fellow OmniFocus nerds only; it won’t make sense to anyone else.

Here’s something that bugs me about OmniFocus, and that I’m hoping to see fixed in Version 2.0: The Folders/Projects/Groups structure is plain confusing. We should instead just have items which act as projects if they contain other items, and act as actions if they don’t contain anything else. Actions can exist at the top level, they don’t need to have containers.

Users should be able to nest these action/projects to an unlimited number of levels.

Eliminate parallel projects. They’re just confusing. I know what the theoretical difference is between parallel projects and the other kinds of projects. I just don’t see parallel projects as useful. To the contrary, I see their existence as harmful.

Single-action lists do essentially the same thing. The default for new projects should be configurable in preferences as either sequential or single-action lists.

I plan to write this up as a feature request and submit it to the appropriate email address at the Omni Group; I’d just like to show this to other people first, to see if I overlooked anything.

The day Steve Jobs hung up on me (Warning: This story is less interesting than you’d think)

It was 1992 or so. Jobs had been out of Apple for years. Apple was a struggling vendor with a couple of niche products. Jobs was now CEO of NeXT, which made a $10,000 workstation that looked a lot like the Mac would ten years later. But at that time it was an expensive white elephant. The NeXTstation ran an operating system based on software called Unix, and I was a senior editor at a publication called Unix Today.

I was scheduled to do a phone interview with Jobs about something NeXT-related. It was going pretty well. He then mentioned something about NeXT earnings, which was a slip on his part. He said, “That was off the record.” I said, automatically, “I’m sorry, but going off the record is an agreement, and I won’t agree to that.”

He said, “Then this interview is over.” And he hung up on me.

See? I told you this story is a lot less interesting than you’d think.

I was shaken up by the event, and I think the PR person on the call was too. We talked about it a while, and she said, “Don’t worry about it. Steve can be like that.”

And Steve and I never talked again. And I started following Apple closely 15 years later, and had trouble getting access to them. But I don’t think that had anything to do with my earlier encounter with Jobs. Apple is like that. Maybe that will change under new management, but I don’t expect it to.

I may have interviewed or met with Jobs at other times earlier in my career. I don’t recall. I started covering technology a couple of years after Jobs had already been kicked out of Apple. Jobs wasn’t STEVE JOBS!! back then. He was an impressive figure, but he was also kind of a has-been, a one-hit wonder. He was an important person, but I’ve interviewed a lot of important people, and very few of them intimidate me. The ones who intimidate me tend to be personal heroes, and often less famous and admired generally than some celebrities I’ve interviewed.

Later on, of course, Jobs became one of the greatest businessmen to have ever walked the Earth, and one of my personal heroes. But that was later. And one of the things that made him one of my personal heroes is that he came back from being a has-been. It gives hope to the rest of us underachievers.

I handled that interview badly. Later, when in the same situation, I just keep my mouth shut until I decide whether I even want to use the information. Because I never did use that earnings information; it wasn’t something our readers at the time were interested in.

The best possible tribute to Steve Jobs

I only read a couple of the tributes to Steve Jobs that appeared after his death.

I thought at first that I had an obligation to read more of them, as my own tribute to the man.

Then I thought that the best possible tribute would be for me to create something great.

Then I thought that I might not have it in me to make anything great. The overwhelming majority of people never do.

Then I thought, well, if I can’t make anything great, I’ll just do the best work I can do.

And that’s what I did.

The sanest man running for President: Gary Johnson, Republican

Is This the Sanest Man Running for President? by Lisa DePaulo, GQ

He climbed Mount Fucking Everest with a broken leg. So you think anemic polling numbers and a tiny campaign chest is gonna spook this guy?

As presidential candidates go, Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson seems to be the best of a bad lot. I can even see myself getting enthusiastic about him.

He’s correct on Culture War issues: He’s pro-choice. He favors civil unions. I’d be happier if he favored legalizing same-sex marriage. But civil unions are a start.

He wants to “stop pissing away money on border patrols and erecting fences and walls across the Mexican border, and let immigrants earn work visas ‘and actually contribute to our economy.’”

He wants to end the Perpetual War and bring the troops home.

Personally, he seems like a decent man with a lot of integrity, and as a two-term state governor in New Mexico, he has executive experience.

On the negative side — and this is a huge negative: He’s a hardcore libertarian. He wants to slash government by nearly half and shut down the Department of Education. But his views are no more poisonous than the crony capitalism that currently prevails in Washington. When you’re looking at a government that gave a trillion dollars to bankers who nearly destroyed the economy, you’re looking at a government where the bar for too-crazy-to-hold office is set pretty low.

Outside of New Mexico and political junkies, Americans haven’t heard of Johnson because the mainstream media anoints who’s worthy of being taken seriously as a candidate and who isn’t, and Johnson isn’t considered serious. As a two-term successful state governor he should be considered a serious candidate and included in the debates, even if his numbers are polling low. Just another thing that needs fixing in the election process.